The Sommelier’s Palate – Nick Petruzzella, cs – Sommelier at Bacchus House, Toronto, Canada

(pronounced suh-mal-‘yAy)

In Medieval Provençal times they were saumaliers, animal pack drivers who evolved during Middle French kingdom to become court officials charged with transportation of supplies. So what does a modern day Sommelier actually do? Well, Wikipedia outlines as such, “A sommelier or wine steward is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food matching. The most important work of a sommelier is in the areas of wine procurement, wine storage, wine cellar rotation, and expert service to wine consumers.”

Nick Petruzzella, cs - Sommelier at Bacchus House, Toronto

Nick Petruzzella, cs – Sommelier at Bacchus House, Toronto

A reasonably accurate job description although perhaps a little parched as our new-age sommelier has evolved to a higher learning with a wine Jedi cognizance and a seventh sense that can psychoanalyse a diner, marry the person, the dish and the wine in seconds. They are now the gateway to wine discovery equipped with clairvoyance in food and wine trends, inspiring thirst around the world.

Feared by winemakers, loathed by wine distributors as the arbiters’ of wine lists, the restaurant patron should embrace their knowledge, skills and talent as they are hopelessly and passionately obsessed with wine and will take you on journey of gastronomic enlightenment. And our new-age sommelier is no longer confined to fine dining and can be found in casual eateries, wine bars, gastro-pubs, winery restaurants, wine stores and you’ll even bump into an air-sommelier at 30,000ft these days. Some have hung up their waiters-friend and metamorphosed to the wine trade as brand ambassadors, distributors or consultants, but once a sommelier, always a sommelier.

This column explores the gustatory and olfactory manifestations of sommeliers all over this planet. We take a cross section of the sommelier’s stomach and intestines to reveal what and where they eat. And we dissect their taste buds and dopamine receptors as they relent to the Wandering Palate narcosynthesis and confess to their personal vinous pleasures and closely-held secrets – this is The Sommelier’s Palate.


Nick Petruzzella, cs – Canada


Where do you currently practice your sommelier skills (restaurant, hotel, consulting etc)?:   

Bacchus House, Ontario, Canada and Wine Judges of Canada


Where have you dined recently (restaurant) that impressed you?

Splendido, Toronto, Ontario – La Vigna, Mississauga Ontario – Treadwell’s Restaurant, Niagara-On-The-Lake – The Alex, Burlington, Ontario


Where have you dined (restaurant, wine bar) that you were mightily impressed with the wine list and service?

Treadwells, Niagara-On-The-Lake.  The Sommelier, James Treadwell, is the consummate host and an encyclopaedia when it comes to wine.  We went there for our 20th anniversary and keep going back.   I admit I am slightly biased as I did my stage under James.  But, it is still, a fantastic place to dine.


Where is the most memorable restaurant meal you have had?

There were two in particular: Gulfi Restaurant / Winery in Noto Sicily.  My better half and I went there in October 2011.  Because it was a quiet day, we had the total attention of the executive chef, Carmelo, who poured wine and described each course.

La Lumie in Marsala.  The meal was a total experience and there is absolutely nothing I can say other than:  Go to Sicily! Go to Marsala!  Dine at La Lumie!


Do you have a favourite regular restaurant?

Recently, I have come to like The Alex in downtown Burlington, Ontario.  It is a small plates’ restaurant and the chef has a good imagination.  I usually bring my own wine to drink there.


Do you cook at home and is there a dish you have perfected?

Heirloom tomato, prosciutto, caramelized fig, goat cheese pizza on BBQ paired with Ontario Gamay Noir. Pasta Carbonra paired with any sauvignon blanc. Arroz con pollo paired with a Dolcetto. Frittata with diced pancetta and Yukon Gold potatoes paired with any sauvignon blanc.Barbequed turkey paired with an Ontario rosé or Ontario pinot noir.


Do you have a favourite wine bar?

My house!


Do you have a favourite wine merchant?

I love going to the individual wineries in Niagara.  The LCBO does an excellent job of bringing in wines from all over the world.  The consultants are very knowledgeable and sometimes, because of their buying power, the wines are cheaper than at the winery.


What wine are you drinking at the moment? 

Il Clou di Clavesana Dogliani Superiore 2010


Is there a wine that totally moved you – like no other wine – a revelation and motivation for you to pursue you wine obsession?

The very first Bourgogne Rouge I bought when I graduated from university in 1979.  I have no idea what the name was because it was so long ago.  What I do remember was the price…$4.95.  My friends and I raved about it


What’s your latest wine discovery – new region, variety or style?           

Spanish Priorat


Tell us what is your ultimate wine bargain discovery in terms of price/quality rapport? (i.e. does not have to be cheap but over-delivers in quality for the price)

I do not know if it is an ultimate discovery, but Il Clou di Clavesana.  I somehow got a bottle free and went home with it.  My wife and I loved it.  It was just released in the LCBO in Ontario at $16.95.  We bought up all the bottles in the area.

I would also put Waterstone Pinot Noir in this category too.  When I first tried it, I thought it was one of the best expressions of a pinot that I had ever had.


Tell us about an inspirational wine and food pairing that has you have experienced recently.

A braised short rib and mashed potato recipe from Chuck Hughes.  It was braised with Big House Red, but matched with a Loidanna Priorat from Spain.  It was tough to share that wine.

In the Mayan Riviera last year, my family and I had dinner at a Japanese restaurant in the resort.  Rather than beer or sake, I paired our meals with an Albariňo from Galaxia.  It was an excellent match and opened my eyes (and taste buds) to how wine can match Asian cuisine.  My daughter, who was 19 at the time, fell in love with the wine. 


What is the most enthralling wine region you have been to in terms of dramatic scenery, inspiring vineyards and good eating?

Hands down…the island of Sicily! There is nothing wrong with Niagara Ontario either.


Select a six pack of wines that you think are absolutely outstanding and inspirational, and that will set people on a journey of vinous discovery and enlightenment.

These wines are not over the top in terms of price, but I love them.

Mission Hill Cabernet Reserve, VQA, Okanagan Valley, BC
Loidanna Priorat, DOQ
Waterstone Pinot Noir, Napa
Tawse Sketches Rosé, VQA, Jordon, ON
Gulfi Cerasuola di Vittoria, DOCG, Sicily
Fazio Levantio Insolia, Erice, Sicily


You might also like:

The Sommelier’s Palate – Ian Burrows, Wine Director & Lead Sommelier at Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
The Sommelier’s Palate – Jacqueline Lewis, Sommelier at Mr Wong, Sydney
The Sommelier’s Palate – Australian Sommelier, David Clarke Emigrates to Cape Town, South Africa
The Sommelier’s Palate – Master Sommelier Nicolas Clerc MS, United Kingdom

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